LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Spring football practice opens for the Wyoming Cowboys on Tuesday, March 22, and head coach Craig Bohl and his staff will welcome back 18 starters and 50 letterwinners when they open spring drills. Included among the key returners are junior running back Brian Hill, who was one of only 11 national semifinalists for the 2015 Doak Walker Award, and sophomore free safety Andrew Wingard, who earned First Team Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2015. Senior left guard Chase Roullier is another key returner, having earned Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors last season.
The makeup of the 2016 Cowboy roster, while still relatively young, is much different than the Cowboy team from a year ago that returned only 10 starters and 33 letterwinners. The 2016 Cowboy roster will feature 20 seniors, half of whom have been regular starters during their careers. The 2015 squad had only eight seniors, the second fewest of any FBS team last season, and of those eight only four were regular starters in 2015.
“We have a lot of returning players,” said Bohl. “They’ve had a good winter-conditioning period, have made good strength gains and they’re excited about starting spring football. I think we are going to have a more seasoned, more mature football team this coming season than what we had last year when we played a high number of freshmen.”
A total of 26 freshmen played for the Cowboys in 2015. That tied UW for No. 7 in the nation for most freshmen played. Of those 26 freshmen who played, 15 started at least one game and 11 started multiple games in 2015.
Wyoming will return nine starters on offense and 24 offensive lettermen. Included in that group is a full stable of running backs and fullbacks, virtually the entire corps of wide receivers and tight ends and four of the five regular starters on the offensive line.
The key position that needs filled is quarterback, where sophomores Josh Allen and Nick Smith will be the two quarterbacks in spring camp vying for the starting spot. Allen started the Eastern Michigan game in 2015 and was enjoying a very productive start before breaking his collarbone in that game, ending his season. Smith started two games in 2015 -- at Utah State and versus Colorado State. He ended the season as the team’s second leading rusher behind running back Hill.
On defense, eight starters and 23 lettermen return. The key losses on defense are defensive ends Eddie Yarbrough and Siaosi Hala’api’api, who both completed their eligibility. Senior linebackers Lucas Wacha and D.J. May along with sophomore strong safety Marcus Epps and sophomore free safety Wingard all return, giving the Cowboys there four leading tacklers from last season.
“Last year was a really challenging year,” said Bohl. “A lot of our guys were baptized under fire, and we took our lumps. But I think we are going to be significantly further along the first day we come out for spring football than we were a year ago.
“Nonetheless, we need to prove it on the field. It is important that we continue to mature as a football team. There are certainly a lot of names on our roster who have played a significant amount. Many of them are still relatively young players, but they have a better understanding of what we as coaches expect from them, and we have a much better understanding of the players on our team. That puts us in a lot better position entering this season.”
The Cowboys will practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays over the next five weeks, with the annual Brown and Gold Spring Game planned for Saturday, April 23.
The first 30 minutes of practices will be open to media and the general public. The Spring Game on April 23 will be the one practice during spring that will be entirely open.
Following is a breakdown of the 2016 spring practice schedule, coaching staff and a breakdown of the Cowboy roster by position.
2016 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule
Tuesday, March 22 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #1)
Thursday, March 24 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #2)
Saturday, March 26 - TBA (Practice #3)
Tuesday, March 29 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #4)
Thursday, March 31 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #5)
Saturday, April 2 - TBA (Practice #6)
Tuesday, April 5 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #7)
Thursday, April 7 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #8)
Saturday, April 9 - TBA (Practice #9)
Tuesday, April 12 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #10)
Thursday, April 14 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #11)
Saturday, April 16 - TBA (Practice #12)
Tuesday, April 19 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #13)
Thursday, April 21 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Practice #14)
Saturday, April 23 - 2 p.m. (Spring Game, Practice #15)
2016 Wyoming Coaching and Administrative Staff
Craig Bohl (Nebraska ‘82), Head Coach
Steve Stanard (Nebraska ‘89), Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Brent Vigen (North Dakota State ‘98), Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Mike Bath (Miami of Ohio ‘01), Running Backs and Fullbacks
AJ Cooper (North Dakota State ‘06), Defensive Ends/Special Teams
Scott Fuchs (North Dakota State ‘95), Offensive Line
Mike Grant (Nebraska ‘93), Wide Receivers
Pete Kaligis (Washington ‘94), Defensive Tackles
Curt Mallory (Michigan ‘92), Defensive Pass Game Coordinator/Secondary
John Richardson (North Dakota State ‘10), Cornerbacks
Russell Dennison (Oklahoma ‘06), Director of Sports Performance/Head Football Strength and Conditioning Coach
Sophomores Josh Allen and Nick Smith will be the two quarterbacks competing for the starting spot vacated by 2015 redshirt senior Cam Coffman. Both Allen and Smith saw action a year ago, although for Allen it was a brief appearance as he suffered a broken collarbone in his one start versus Eastern Michigan in the second game of the season. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 51 yards against Eastern Michigan and ran for 40 yards. Allen was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, and so will be a redshirt sophomore. Smith played in five games, starting two in 2015. He completed 27 of 60 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and only one interception. Smith added 157 yards rushing and scored two rushing TDs. Allen will enter spring practice at 6’5” and 230 pounds, up from 217 pounds last season. Smith stands 6’4” and 233 pounds.
When fall camp opens in August, they will be joined by freshman quarterback Chandler Garrett from Yukon, Okla. Garrett is 6’5” and 205 pounds.
“Both Josh (Allen) and Nick (Smith) played last year,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “We are a little thin at quarterback this spring, with only two quarterbacks, so those guys obviously won’t take any contact this spring. It will be fun to see both of them take another step forward.
“Nick played a lot of football for us last year. Josh played in only one ball game before he got injured. It will be exciting to have them both out there healthy and competing this spring.”
Wyoming will have the luxury of featuring two running backs in 2016 who rank among the Top 10 rushers in school history and who were both named to the 2015 Doak Walker Award Watch List last season. Junior Brian Hill will enter this coming season ranked No. 5 in career rushing in UW history, wiith 2,427 yards. He needs only 536 yards to tie Devin Moore for the Wyoming career rushing record. Moore rushed for 2,963 yards from 2005-08. Hill set a new UW single-season rushing record last season, accumulating 1,631 yards. He averaged 135.9 rushing yards per game as a sophomore to rank No. 8 in the nation. Also returning in 2016 is redshirt senior Shaun Wick. Wick played in portions of the first four games for Wyoming in 2015 before suffering a concussion that ended his season. He was granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, giving him one more season of eligibility. Wick ranks No. 9 in career rushing at Wyoming, with 2,179 yards. He is also No. 8 in UW history in career rushing TDs, with 20. Joining Hill and Wick are sophomores Kellen Overstreet and Nico Evans. Overstreet played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season, carrying the ball 16 times for 84 yards and one TD. He underwent offseason shoulder and knee surgery, which will make him unavailable for spring practice. He does have a redshirt year available to him. Evans had 14 carries for 56 yards as a redshirt freshman last season. Another scholarship running back returning is redshirt freshmen Milo Hall.
“We certainly have some depth at running back, with good experience by both Brian (Hill) and Shaun (Wick),” said Bohl. “Nico (Evans) will also be back competing this spring, and we have a couple freshmen who we also expect to come in and compete, as well.
“Brian really has exceptional ability. What we appreciate about Brian is he is a team player. He works hard. He’s had a good offseason. He’s picked up some lean muscle mass. He runs with a real sense of purpose, and in our style of offense his style of running fits very well. We would probably like to reduce his number of carries some, and with Shaun being back -- cleared from his concussions -- we are in hopes of Brian not having quite as many carries. But none the less, Brian is going to be a featured player.
“We were certainly pleased with the play of Kellen Overstreet last year as a true freshman. He will be out this spring due to offseason surgery on a knee and shoulder. It will be interesting to see his progress in the fall. I would say he might be doubtful for next season. He’s got a long recovery from both those surgeries, but we were pleased with Kellen’s play last fall.”
The Cowboy receiving unit also returns its Top 10 receivers from last season led by seniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt, who accounted for 678 and 653 receiving yards, respectively last season. Gentry was leading the Mountain West and was ranked No. 16 in the NCAA in receiving yards in 2015 prior to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 7 versus Nevada. Maulhardt caught eight touchdown passes in 2015, ranking him No. 2 in the MW and No. 37 in the nation. He also ranked No. 6 in the conference in receptions (4.75 per game) and No. 7 in receiving yards (54.4 yards per game).
“We are certainly in a much better position going into this year than we were a year ago,” said Bohl. “When Tanner Gentry was healthy last year, I thought he was having a real breakout season. Jake Maulhardt has good size, and he uses that size well.
“We are going to need to develop some depth with some of the young players who played for us as true freshmen last year, including James Price, Joe Parker and Justice Murphy. We’ll also have the addition of C.J. Johnson, who redshirted his freshman season last year.”
The entire corps of tight ends return for Wyoming in 2016. Senior Jacob Hollister and sophomores Tyree Mayfield and Josh Harshman will all be back, and all have added weight. Hollister is up from 230 to 239. Mayfield is up to 235, from 223, and Harshman is up to 224, from 207. Sophomore Grant Lewis is still recovering from knee surgery last season, and sophomore Austin Fort has returned to the team after playing at Chabot Community College in 2015.
“Jake Hollister played some of his best football toward the end of last season, and we’re certainly excited about Jacob coming back,” said Bohl. “Tight ends are really important in our system, and we are going to continue to look at developing those guys. Tyree Mayfield won’t be out there practicing in the spring due to injury, but Josh Harshman will. We have also added Austin Fort back to our team as a tight end.”
Drew Van Maanen and Jordan Ellis enter their third season serving as the fullbacks in Wyoming’s pro-style offense. Their blocking has played a key role in the success of Cowboy running backs Brian Hill and Shaun Wick the past two seasons. Junior Van Maanen is weighing in at 240 pounds after playing much of last year at about 226. Senior Ellis has also bulked up to 250, from 239. Sophomore Matt List also returns, and they will be joined in the fall by true freshman scholarship fullback Zach Taylor from Gillette, Wyo.
“Drew (Van Maanen) and Jordan (Ellis) both have played a lot of football for us, and they’ve both added some weight. They give us good experience at the fullback position, and they both played their best football at the tail end of last year.”
Asked if he feels the tight end and fullback positions have begun to develop players of the caliber needed for his offense to run effectively, Bohl said. “We’re getting closer to where we need to be at those two positions. We have all our tight ends and all our fullbacks returning from last year. They played a lot of game reps in our offense last season, which wasn’t the case in our first year. They understand their assignments better. They’re physically more mature. We would still like to see a little more size out of each position, but I think we’re making progress to be the type of team we want to be at those two spots.”
Four returning starters will anchor the offensive line for the Wyoming Cowboys in 2016. Leading the offensive line group will be senior left guard Chase Roullier, who is a returning team captain. Roullier earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors as a junior. He has started 28 of 34 career games, including starting the last 27 consecutive games. Junior Ryan Cummings has started the last 19 consecutive games for the games at left tackle, including the final seven games of his true freshman season and all 12 games as a sophomore. Junior center Charlie Renfree returns after starting 11 of 12 games in 2015. The other returning starter is sophomore tackle Zach Wallace, who started the final 10 games of his true freshman season at right tackle. Bohl and his coaching staff are planning to move Wallace to left tackle this spring and move Cummings to right tackle. Another player who saw considerable playing time as a true freshman last season is sophomore right guard Kaden Jackson.
The offensive line members have made significant weight gains from where they started last season. Wallace has gained 32 pounds from when he arrived on campus -- up from 265 to 297. Roullier has gained 22 pounds in the last year, from 293 to 315. Jackson is up 17 pounds from 277 to 294 and Cummings has gained six, from 314 to 320.
“We have a lot of returning players on the offensive line. Charlie Renfree won’t go through spring football with a back issue, but everyone else should be good to go. The offensive line is an area where experience is important, and we certainly have a lot of experienced players returning on the offensive line. Not only is that experience important with our starters, but also to develop experienced depth in that unit.”
The secondary returns returns eight individuals who started at least one game last season and four individuals who started eight or more games in 2015. Talk of the secondary begins with sophomore free safety Andrew Wingard. Wingard entered the starting lineup for the Cowboys in the second game of his true freshman season, and started the last 11 games of the year. He earned First Team Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and was named Second Team All-Mountain West in voting by conference head coaches and media members. Wingard led the Cowboys in tackles in 2015, with 122. He became the first freshman in school history to record 100 tackles in a single season. His 122 tackles ranks as the 15th best single-season total in UW history. His running mate at strong safety in 2015 was Marcus Epps, who also enjoyed an outstanding season as a redshirt freshman. Epps ranked third on the team in tackles, with 83. He also led the Cowboys in interceptions, with two picks. Junior cornerback Robert Priester is the most experienced member of the secondary. Priester has started 17 games over the past two seasons. He will be competing with sophomores Antonio Hull and C.J. Jennings and redshirt freshman Davion Freeman for playing time. Other players competing at the safety positions will include sophomores Chavez Pownell Jr. and Anthony Makransky, as well as UCLA transfer Jalen Ortiz. Makransky has moved to safety after playing corner for the Pokes last season.
“Andrew (Wingard) had a tremendous year,” said Bohl. “He came in with great expectations, having been selected the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Colorado his senior year of high school. The safety position is a complicated position, but Andrew was definitely ahead of the curve for most freshmen, and I thought he had a great season.
“Marcus Epps played well at our other safety position, and I think Marcus has gotten a little faster over this past winter. Those two guys, with a year of experience under their belts, are certainly going to make a difference.
“What we have done is move a couple corners into the safety position. Jalen Ortiz, who transferred from UCLA, and Anthony Makransky, who started some games for us at corner early last season, have both been moved to safety. We also return Chavez Pownell, who played as a redshirt freshman last season, so we are going to be deeper at the safety position.
“At the corner position, we expect to have some good competition. Robert Priester has played a lot of football over the past two seasons. C.J. Jennings really played well when he was called upon last year. Antonio Hull has played well, and we were able to redshirt Davion Freeman. We are more experienced, certainly deeper and more athletic at those spots.
“While we were young in the secondary last year and still remain fairly young, we do believe the secondary is the deepest position on our defense. In our league where there are a number of ‘spread’ offenses, it’s great to have more speed and experience out there. However, you’re starting to see some teams in our league taking a more traditional, pro-style approach like us, Colorado State and San Diego State, so it’s going to be important that we develop some physical guys along the way. To have all the experienced players back in our secondary, I believe is going to really speak well for our defense.”
Seniors Lucas Wacha and D.J. May will provide the Cowboy linebacking corps with leadership in 2016. Wacha was among the leading tacklers in the Mountain West and the nation last season. He averaged 8.7 tackles per game to rank second only to Wingard on the Cowboys, No. 5 in the Mountain West and No. 44 in the nation. May ranked fourth on the team in tackles in his first season playing defense after moving over from running back. May averaged 5.3 tackler per game. He led UW and ranked seventh in the MW in passes defended, with 10. He also was Wyoming’s leading kick returner, averaging 26.2 yards per return to rank No. 4 in the conference and No. 24 nationally. Other veteran linebacker returning include senior Eric Nzeocha and junior Tim Kamana.
“At linebacker, Lucas Wacha has put on about 15 pounds -- up to 230 pounds, and it’s good weight,” said Bohl. “He’s moving around really well. Eric Nzeocha is also going to play MIKE (middle linebacker), as well and he’s up to 231.
“Over at the WILL (weakside) linebacker, Luis Bach played some for us last year. We are moving Logan Wilson from safety to the WILL spot. Logan’s size is such -- over 220 pounds -- combined with his athletic ability that we’re excited about his future. He was a good player out of high school at Casper Natrona. We were fortunate to be able to redshirt him last year.
“At the Nickel-SAM (strongside linebacker) position, D.J. May played a lot of meaningful reps last year and played well. But it was all new to him after moving over from running back. He didn’t have an opportunity to go through spring football as a linebacker last year, so this spring combined with having played one full year at linebacker-nickel should really benefit D.J. Tim Kamana is another experienced player at this position. Christian Irving is a young player who played some there last year as a true freshman, and we’ve moved Adam Pilapil from the safety position.”
The Cowboy defensive line will be one area of the 2016 team that will be less experienced than a year ago. Gone are senior defensive ends and team captains Eddie Yarbrough and Siaosi Hala’api’api. Senior to be Chase Appleby does return at nose tackle along with sophomore Sidney Malauulu. Sophomores Carl Granderson and Kevin Prosser both saw time at defensive end as true freshmen last season. They will be joined by transfer Trevor Meader, who missed last season due to injury. At defensive tackle, sophomore Conner Cain and Youhanna Ghaifan will compete to fill the spot vacated by Uso Olive who decided to forego his senior season at Wyoming. Also adding experience inside will be junior Dalton Fields and senior Jacob English.
“Chase Appleby is back,” said Bohl. “His knee feels really good, and he did not have to have surgery, so we’re excited about him. Conner Cain and Youhanna Ghaifan are two guys who are going to be battling it out at the tackle position. Conner of course played significant reps last year. Youhanna has had a great offseason after redshirting last year. We’re deeper there with some other guys behind them, so we’re going to have good numbers for practice at that spot.
“The defensive end position, we of course lost two seniors who were quality people, were really good football players and were leaders and team captains in Eddie (Yarbrough) and Siaosi (Hala’api’api). We’re coming from behind there a little bit. But I feel really good about Carl Granderson. Carl played a lot as a freshman. His height at 6’6” and his athletic ability enabled him to make plays as a true freshman. His weight, however, was deficient, but he has picked up some weight this offseason and is up to over 225 pounds. His body certainly looks different that it did a year ago. Trevor Meader is a senior, who is coming back off an injury suffered during fall camp last year. He was a guy we planned to play last year before injuring his knee. Kevin Prosser played quite a bit this past year and has also picked up some weight, but nonetheless we are concerned about the end position and that position is really going to have to come around.”
Wyoming’s punting and long-snapping duties will be in good hands again this coming season, with four-year starters Ethan Wood and Brendan Turelli returning for their senior years. Wood has started every game of his four-year career at punter, while Turelli can say the same as the Cowboys’ long snapper. Place-kicking will, however, not be settled until fall camp. Senior Justin Martin and incoming freshman Cooper Rothe will battle for the starting place-kicking duties.
“It is great to have Ethan (Wood) and Brendan (Turelli) back at punter and long snapper. They are both experienced, veteran players. Our punting and punt return game is something we will work on extensively during spring.
“Our place-kicking situation is up in the air. We have another senior in Justin Martin returning, but it will be fall before we solidify our place-kicking position. We of course have a scholarship player coming in this fall in freshman Cooper Rothe.
“We return a number of guys who’ve proven they can make a difference in punt and kick returns when they get the ball in their hands. Tanner (Gentry) was an excellent punt returner before he got injured, and D.J. (May) was one of the top kickoff returners in our conference. It is also going to be important to develop some depth at those spots, as well.”